Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut: Francis Turretin On the Perpetual Virginity of Mary

The perpetual virginity of Mary often comes up in Protestant and Catholic arguments. When I was Reformed, I didn’t think much of it. I didn’t think it ought to be a church dividing issue since plenty of the Reformers and post-Reformation theologians adhered to it and defended it. And I didn’t at the time see its significance one way or theCoptic Theotokos other, though no I think reflection on the perpetual virginity of Jesus will show that it is.) It was also a teaching that was held and judged to be correct or at least permissible, by plenty of “secondary” authorities. If Sola Scriptura entails following secondary authorities and eschewing the supposedly more Anabaptist take of solo Scriptura, this seemed like such a case.  And of course, plenty of Protestants hold to it today, not the least of which are the Lutherans.

Francis Turretin (1623-1687) no small name among Reformed authors also favored the doctrine. Here is his summary defense of the teaching.

Francis Turretin“This is not expressly declared in Scripture, but is yet piously believed with human faith from the consent of the ancient church.  Thus it is probable that the womb in which our Savior received the auspices of life (whence he entered into this world, as  from a temple) was so consecrated and sanctified by so great a guest that she always remained untouched by man; nor did Joseph ever cohabit with her.

Hence Helvidius and the Antidicomarianites (so-called because they were opponents of [antidikoi] Mary)are deservedly rebuked by the fathers for denying that Mary was always a virgin (aei Parthenon).  They held that she cohabited with Joseph after delivery; yea, also bore children from him. As Augustine remarks, they rely on the shallowest arguments, i.e., because Christ is called the ‘firstborn’ of Mary (cf. De Haeresibus 56, 84 [PL 42.40, 46]). For as Jerome well remarks, she was so called because no one was begotten before him, not because there was another after him. Hence among lawyers: ‘He is the first whom no one precedes; he is last, whom no one follows.’  The Hebrews were accustomed to call the firstborn also only begotten; Israel is called ‘the first-born of God’ (Ex 4:22), although the only people chosen of God.  Thus ‘the firstborn’  is said to be ‘holy unto God’ (Ex 13:2), who first opened the womb, whether others followed or not. Otherwise the firstborn would not have to be redeemed until after another offspring had been procreated (the law shows this to be false because it commands it to be redeemed a month after birth, Num. 18:16).

Not more solidly have they been able to elicit this from the fact that in the New Testament certain onesCoptic Annunciation are called ‘the brothers of Christ.’ It is common in Scripture not only for one’s own and full brothers by nature to be designated by this name, but also blood relatives and cousins (as Abraham and Lot, Jacob and Laban).  Thus James and Joses, Simon and Judas are called brothers of Christ (Mt. 13:55) by a relation of blood. For Mary (who is called their mother by Matthew and Mark) is called by John the sister of the Lord’s mother. However what is said in Jn. 7:5 that ‘neither did his brethren believe him’ must be understood of more remote blood relations.

 Nor is it derived better from this-that Joseph is said ‘not to have known Mary till she had brought forth her firstborn son’ (Mt. 1:25). The particles ‘till” and ‘even unto’ are often referred only to the past, not to the future (i.e., they so connote the preceding time, concerning which there might be a doubt or which it was of the highest importance to know, as not to have a reference to the future-cf. Gen 28:15; Pss 122:2; 110:1; Mt.28:20, etc.).  Thus is shown what was done by Joseph before the nativity of Christ (to wit, that he abstained form her); but it does not imply that he lived with her in any other way postpartum.  When therefore she is said to have been found with child ‘before they came together’ (prin e synelthein autous), preceding copulation is denied, but not subsequent affirmed.

Although copulation had not take place in that marriage, it did not cease to be true and ratified (although unconsummated) for not intercourse, but consent makes marriage. Therefore it was perfect as to form (to wit, undivided conjunction of life and unviolated faith, but not as to end (to wit, the procreation of children, although it was not deficient as to the raising of the offspring.”

 Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol. 2, 345-346.



  1. Turretin doesn’t seem to get to the key historical argument, namely that the teaching comes out of the Protoevangelium of James (per Origen and others).

    The East and West have long disagreed on who the “brothers of Jesus” were. The West says they were cousins and the East says they were children of Joseph by a prior marriage. That difference is enough to demonstrate that there’s no early evidence that was compelling of their identity. Both explanations seem ad hoc from a distance.

    There are plenty of others who did not hold the doctrine in church history, and others who argued that both views were held by well-intentioned Christian people.

    In the end, if you accept the authority of the historical churches, you accept the teaching. If you are in inquirer testing the teachings against Scripture, you will probably not be convinced by their arguments which seem weak both in historical evidence and Scriptural evidence. It appears to be an accretion to the faith.

  2. I am not sure if that is so. Does the teaching come form there or is the teaching located there? Many canonical teachinges or ideas are found in Gnostic works but didn’t originate in them.

    The question is not that others dissented. If there are secondary authorities, is not one bound to them in such cases or no? If no, when would one be?

    And Protestants have their own accretions that don’t have any biblical support, like the Filioque. Do they adhere to it because they are convinced by scriptural exegesis? I don’t think so.

  3. Origen’s language is pretty specific even in the various translations out there. He states that the Protoevangelium is the authority cited by those who hold the view. He was close enough in time to know the origin of the teaching and there’s no evidence (as far as I know) that Origin was incorrect in the origin of the teaching. His acceptance, he admitted was based on the same “piously believed” foundation which Turrentin himself cites.

    Today, the East accepts the Protoevangelium incorporating it into the Liturgy of St. James (iirc) and the West formally condemned the Protoevangelium (one of those Popes) probably because it promoted a contrary view of the identity of the brothers to that of the Western church.

    Either the Protoevangelium got it right or the Protoevangelium got it wrong, but there’s absolutely no concensus on the authority of the Protoevangelium itself and if a building is constructed of a house of cards and the bottom card is pulled out…

  4. The post and the comments are a classic Romanist / Eastern Orthodox approach to anything: pretend there is no new birth in Jesus Christ, no inner presence of God in us to tell us the truth and be THE witness of the Truth and then leave all ‘truth’ of the Christian life to fighting over extra-biblical texts written by Saint So and So.

    The whole thing is a hoax. Just like the “Calvinism” tag on this article.

    Romans 8:16,17 The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are children of God. And if children, heirs also: heirs of God, and Christ’s joint heirs; if indeed we suffer with him , that we may also be glorified with him .

    also, because God has given us HIMSELF, and non-metaphorically dwells in us:

    1John 4:17 Herein has love been perfected with us that we may have boldness in the day of judgment, that even as *he* is, *we* also are in this world.

    note the “ this world” clause. We do not have to wait til later to find out fundamental truths of Christ.

    Mary is not a perpetual virgin. She has no place in Christian worship other than as history. She is blessed above women ( above fallen women ), but on the same scale John the Baptist was said to be the greatest man born OF WOMEN, yet those in the Kingdom of Heaven are greater than he.

    Matthew 11:11 Verily I say to you, that there is not arisen among the born of women a greater than John the baptist. But he who is a little one in the kingdom of the heavens is greater than he.

    By your metrics, Jesus Christ Himself was “born of women” ..and the blessed among women ..ergo Mary is a ..bigger deal. But Jesus Christ is far above Mary. He is the Second Person of the Trintiy. Mary is a sister of mine in Christ as being born again IN CHRIST.

    You guys never mention Mary had to be BORN AGAIN herself and IN CHRIST. You always pretend Christ got life from Mary ..and that was it for both of them …because you know nothing of the new birth for yourselves. You are basically engaging in the worship of Astarte and the host of heaven and don’t even know it.

    You deny ( not on purpose, not in free will ) the fundamental tenets of the Christian faith while pretending to out-ceremonialize real Christians.

    God bless you. You mean well. You really do. But you are perfectly deceived.

    Matthew 11:15 He that has ears to hear, let him hear.


    In the Name of Jesus Christ, Amen

  5. Timothy,

    I think you need to calm down.

    Then I think you need to present arguments, rather than assertions.

    Along with that, you need to not talk to people like they are complete idiots and can’t reason.

    I invite people to discuss freely even if they do not share my view. That is fine, but I expect a certain level of discourse. If you can’t do that, then please find somewhere else to vent your anger.

  6. Perry,

    again, classic cult response.

    Perry: Personal attack/insult- no argument. Put the Chick Tracts away.

    2Timothy 3:6.7 For of these are they who are getting into houses, and leading captive silly women, laden with sins, led by various lusts, always learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

    Perry: Last I checked I am happily married. Again, try some context. Just because we disagree theologically it doesn’t followt hat this is applicable to me anymore than it is to YOU.

    Anything that falls outside the bounds of the emotional response set of the lie of human free will just don’t know what to think. You are kind to people who don’t share your view? For those with a speech that can’t create anything, that’s called proselytizing, not Christian behavior.

    Perry: I am not even sure that is an expression of a coherent thought. Besides, I think God has free will. But I doubt you think the same.

    Christ Himself is Truth. Kindness is truth. Love is truth. There is no other love or superior emotional demonstration. You do not have the truth. That is its own catastrophe. That means even when you want to ‘do love’ you can’t. Your best honesty is the lie.

    Perry: How about demonstrating some respect as Peter says to do?

    Luke 8:17,18 For there is nothing hid which shall not become manifest, nor secret which shall not be known and come to light. Take heed therefore how ye hear; for whosoever has, to him shall be given, and whosoever has not, even what he seems to have shall be taken from him.

    Perry: Well no duh. And?

    God has given you light and you call it emotional rule breaking. Rite on schedule. God’s heart and God’s emotional common sense you have displaced with your own.

    Perry: I didn’t give an emotional response. I asked for you to talk to people here with some common civiity and respect. Learn how to spell “right.”

    Luke 7:31-35 To whom therefore shall I liken the men of this generation, and to whom are they like? They are like children sitting in the market-place, and calling one to another and saying, We have piped to you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned to you, and ye have not wept. For John the baptist has come neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and ye say, He has a demon. The Son of man has come eating and drinking, and ye say, Behold an eater and wine-drinker, a friend of tax-gatherers and sinners; and wisdom has been justified of all her children.

    Perry: Yes, that generation of 30-70 A.D.

    So Timothy, you’re done. Don’t post here again if you can’t make an argument and talk to people with some decency and respect. Besides, you don’t seem like the sharpest tool in the shed and we have standards here.

  7. Yeah Perry, you reveal again the complete incoherence of your self and your communion. Repent, and feel a burning in your busom for the remission of sins. Jesus Christ is your salvation, and you must be born again by consent and burning. You must be saved. And since you talk about Mary, you must not be saved. Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand! “Behold I come quickly.” But woe unto those who he finds unprepared. Hear Jesus, and tremble. /end sarcasm.

  8. I am familiar with what Origen had to say about the matter, and it was one of the reasons why I didn’t convert for many years. I use to follow David Bercot’s online ministry from 1997/1998 to 2003. I become Orthodox in 2007 and one of the things I accepted was the perpetual virginity of mary, and one of the things I droped, was pre-nicene chillism.

    What allowed me to accept the perpetual virginity of Mary was that I knew that those in the pre-nicene world who believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary were indeed true christians. They were in full fellowship/communion in the Church, and so, at that time, you had those that believed and didn’t believe in the doctrine, and overtime through the guidance of the Holy Spirit it became the view of the Church.

    And so, I told myself, “if it was good enough for them, then it should be good enough for me as well”.

    When I was a protestant, I made that issue an essential issue to divide over, and I was basing it “soley” on what Origen said, and yet, that same Origen was in full-communion with those that believed in the perpetual virginity of our blessed Mother.

    And yet, I wasn’t, and so I changed.

    I didn’t like the fact that Bercot kept changing his mind alot, and when I saw him compromise some things in order to be in fellowship with Anabaptists…and maybe the priestless Russian old believers, that’s when I said, “if I’m going to compromise in order to find fellowship” then it’s going to be with the Church. And the onlything that was holding me back was Icons and Mary. I became Anglo-Catholic in 2003 and so got over the Icon issue, and in 2007 I got over the Mary issue.


  9. She is blessed above women ( above fallen women ), but on the same scale John the Baptist was said to be the greatest man born OF WOMEN, yet those in the Kingdom of Heaven are greater than he.


    Saint John the Baptist never got the chance to be baptized with the Holy Spirit, as Mary and the myrrh-bearing women and the Holy Apostles and the other followers and disciples of Jesus on the day of Pentecost.

  10. Timothy,

    “Mr. Madison, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.”


  11. Here’s an interesting text from St. Basil that should cause detractors of Orthodox dogma to shudder:

    “[The opinion that Mary bore several children after Christ] … is not against
    the faith; for virginity was imposed on Mary as a necessity only up to the
    time that she served as an instrument for the Incarnation. On the other
    hand, her subsequent virginity was not essential to the mystery of the
    Incarnation.” (Homilia in sanctam Christi generationem, PG 31:1468)

    *Nevertheless*, the same text also contains the following admonition:

    “The friends of Christ do not tolerate hearing that the Theotokos ever
    ceased to be a virgin…”

    St. Basil here implies that we believe in the perpetual virginity, not because our gospel requires it to be coherent, but rather because we are just reporting the facts. This fact should cause those who mock the doctrine to shut up. If Mary had ceased to be virgin after the Incarnation, it wouldn’t necessarily have effected the economy. It just simply is the case that she was ever-virgin, and the Church must uphold this truth.

  12. It is not the case that Mary is simply like other “sinful” people, as Timothy has suggested.

    On the contrary, Mary was elected by God to bear His Son, the Savior of the world. Furthermore, Mary willingly accepted the role of “theotokos”, which is the most fearful and glorious role a person could take (i.e. to birth and raise God’s Son).

    Who, but the proud and carnal, would dare presume a more exalted standing amongst men? Who among us can boast a greater feat of faith than that of Mary?

    I say: “no one”

    But when the underlying principle of Theology is “humanism”, as it surely is in Protestantism, then a de facto rejection of “theotokos” becomes understandable, even if not acceptable. And, unless Eastern and Western proponents come to terms with this, then debating such matters is fruitless.

    The only Person whom can truly “interpret” matters of faith, is God. For, if you believe that God has, at a very minimum, “inspired” the scriptures, then you have to believe that He, absolutely, knows what they mean….even if we do not, or can not, understand them ourselves.

    Orthodox and Protestants both agree that the Holy Spirit “inspired” the Old and New Testament, and that He illuminates the meaning of scripture to us. Where Orthodox and Protestants disagree, however, is over “whom” it is granted the benefit of such illumination. The Protestants, being thorough humanists, place the locus of illumination on the individual; such that an individual is believed to possess, within him/herself, all the requisite spiritual tools needed to mine the “truth”. What Martin Luther accomplished was not the reallocation of authority back to the scripture—where it was said to belong—contra the Papacy and Roman ecclesiastic polity. Instead, Martin Luther reallocated authority unto himself!!

    Orthodox, on the other hand, places authority on the Church qua “Body of Christ” (see Matt. 16:17-19; Eph. 3:8-10; 4:11-16; 1 Pet. 2:4-10). And the reason why the authority must be placed on the Church, as a whole, is because it is the only possible way to safeguard against ego centrism, false teaching and division. It is the means of keeping the “Body of Christ” safe from the pernicious illness of error. Even saying this, it must also be said that certain Church Fathers and Saints harbored opinions that were not accepted, nor acceptable, to Orthodoxy. Chiliasm and apocatastasis come to mind. But, since these views are touching on areas of theology which are tertiary and highly speculative, they are not as important as issues of, say, Christology….or the nature of the Resurrection. I mean, being wrong about the question of universal salvation is not in the same league/category as being wrong about the question of Christ: “what think ye? Whose Son is He?” There is much more at stake in the latter question because it is decisive in demarcating the true worshiper of God from the idolator.

    But it’s not as if Orthodoxy forgets about, or flatly rejects, any individual’s opinion in theology simply because they [individuals] happen to have opinions….some, of which, happen to be wrong. Instead, individual opinion is tempered, and often chastened, by the totality of the Church’s decision; whether it’s the Church militant or the Church triumphant. And, in this regard, I like what Chesterton has said:

    “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around.”

  13. “When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!” (John 19:26)

  14. The passage Ioannis quotes is strong indirect evidence that the Theotokos had no other children, since if she did there would have been no reason for Christ to entrust her to someone outside the family. In any case, the Scriptures when interpreted from the view of Patristic typology definitely affirm the perpetual virginity of Mary, since she is prefigured in the Old Testament as the burning bush, the gate that is shut through which only the Prince may enter, and so on. So the question is not so much one of historical analysis as method of hermeneutics.

  15. Joseph: Here’s an interesting text from St. Basil that should cause detractors of Orthodox dogma to shudder: “[The opinion that Mary bore several children after Christ] … is not against the faith….” St. Basil here implies that we believe in the perpetual virginity, not because our gospel requires it to be coherent, but rather because we are just reporting the facts….If Mary had ceased to be virgin after the Incarnation, it wouldn’t necessarily have effected the economy. It just simply is the case that she was ever-virgin, and the Church must uphold this truth.

    Tom: Why “must” the Church uphold this truth if failing to uphold it is “not against the faith” and if its falsity (for the sake of argument) wouldn’t affect the economy? I mean, what can “must” mean in such a case? If it was just a historical fact that most believed it, and if one may not believe it without doing violence to the faith or economy, then it’s conceivable that most may come not to believe in it as a historical fact.


  16. Perry, As to where the Protoevangelium got the notion… I suppose “out of whole cloth” along with the other un-historical assertions of the Protoevangelium. Just like the other apocryphal “gospels”.

    I can accept that many or even most historical Christians accept it, but is argumentum ad populum a solid enough reason to believe the doctrine? Or should one believe it due to argumentum ad antiquitatem?

  17. Psa 118:19-20 Open to me the gates of righteousness: I will go into them, and I will praise the LORD: This gate of the LORD, into which the righteous shall enter.

    If Joseph was righteous, then he could enter the gate.

  18. I am amazed that so many Protestants (like Mr Tundra Man) can be so deaf, dumb, and blind — they seem unable and unwilling to understand how inherently conservative the Church has always been. Whenever new beliefs were introduced, they met with vigorous opposition. There is NO WAY a new belief could have been created ‘out of whole cloth’ without stiff opposition and the historical record shows ZERO opposition. (And the idea that every shred of opposition could be eradicated doesn’t stand up to historical scrutiny as can be witnessed by the Gnostic writings which have survived.)


  19. Doug,

    Are you interpreting Ps 118 with the historical-grammatical method or no?

    Usually apocraphal literature is written for a point. And it is odd to find such documents that do not carry genuine information about Christ or other biblical figures. This is so true that the gnostic corupus offers us no new historical information about Christ that isn’t in the canonical gospels.

    So we have a choice I suppose. To speculate that they made it up or got it from another source. Gnostics often included practices of the church, such as images, but they also distorted them, such as including images of Jesus with say Plato or Zeus.

    As for unhistorical assertions, do you mean assertions for which we lack verification or which is contrary to information we have? In either case, how shall the Exodus fair? Is Exodus unhistorical too? If not, why not?

    As for your choice between two fallacious forms of reasoning, I simply assert that there is a tertium quid as I suggest above. So in proposing ad populum and ad antiquitatum you commit that of a false dilemma.

    As for entrusting to John and not to children of a previus marriage, perhaps they were not believers and John was. That seems to have some tracting with the gospel material. Perhaps because they weren’t directly related to Mary.

  20. You are, of course, correct Perry. But do you not find the suggestion that well-established beliefs which met no opposition amongst Christians were manufactured ‘out of whole cloth’ at least as insulting?


  21. trvalentine – It is not historically accurate to say that there was no variety of opinion on the matter of the PV of Mary. There was a variety of views on the matter as demonstrated by the quotes from Basil, Origen and others. I stand with Origen in stating the teaching came from the Protoevangelium. I stand with Basil in affirming that it’s not an essential to the Orthodox faith. I stand with the Catholic Pope who condemned the Protoevangelium as not being a true gospel.

    As to the church’s conservatism preventing her from accepting false teaching, one need look no further than the widespread acceptance of Arianism, or any of a dozen other such issue (iconoclasm, etc) for well documented counter-examples. There have been stretches of time where the vast majority of pious believers were in error and only a few held the truth.

    Using my counterexample of the story of George Washington and the cherry tree who would believe that the story of our national hero was not accurate? To suggest the story is not true is to some impious and sacrilegious. For others, it’s a quest for historical truth as the grounding for the actual truth.

    The arguments in favor of the teaching are not convincing to me and the contrary argument is to me much stronger. On a personal note, I’ve been attending an Orthodox church for a few years and I want to believe it. I really do. I just don’t buy the arguments.

  22. Perry, I’m taking a verse about a gate from the Psalms which says that the righteous can go in and out of the gate. If Mary is the gate and Joseph is the righteous one then he could go into Mary. Of course I don’t buy into “Mary as the gate” in the first place, I’m just using the same methodology as Fr Maximus used on his argument.

    I don’t doubt that apocryphal books can contain truth. The book, it seems to me, is a recapitulation of quite a few OT themes. As an example, Mary in the book, is too much like Samuel, given to the temple by elderly parents, etc. However, the book doesn’t hold up as I understand the historical context. It’s pretty clearly an invention (from where I sit). I find the idea that parents would give female child to the temple at an early age more absurd than the idea that Mary had children.

    I’m with you on Mary & John, but the argument you give rejects the argument given by Fr Maximus. It’s the explanation that I prefer myself though. On the other hand if the brothers and sisters were too young at the time, that would also work although it would make them children of Mary and Joseph.

    The cousins argument given by the Catholics doesn’t work either. There’s a certain amount of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) in the Eastern/Western divergence on this matter. Although they both believe Mary was PV, they believe it for completely different and mutually exclusive, reasons. In the end they demonstrate that claims of ancientness just don’t have a basis in fact, or that one half is completely wrong and the other right.

    In the end, I’m left with the notion that they were biological children of Mary. With a church that makes a claim to be the sole repository of truth on these sorts of things, that’s a problem for me. If the EOC defined this as secondary and non-essential to the faith, then I’d be in now.

  23. trvalentine – I’m not sure how it’s insulting to suggest that something is not historically grounded. it may be offensive, but I don’t see how it is insulting.

    It is insulting if I suggest to a Mormon that the archangel Moroni did not appear to Joseph on Hill Commorah? It may offend a Mormon, but it’s not an insult. And, yes, there are millions of Mormons who believe the story.

    I am sorry if I offended you by my lack of belief in the PV of Mary.

  24. It seems appropriate for someone who denies the perpetual virginity of the Theotokos to throw in their lot with the heretic Origen.

  25. Doug,

    There were a variety of views about many things in the early church. Do you have an inference from that you wish to draw? Because as it stands, you haven’t presented one. I suppose you mean to imply that either there was no tradition concerning the matter or any view is acceptable. I can’t see how that follows. And I don’t think you accept that in other cases such as the divinity of Christ or the canon of scripture. Hence it looks like special pleading.

    Arianism became widespread for a host of reasons. First was political and second was a lack of precise terminology. The majority party were never the Arians but rather the homoiousians, who were Nicene in spirit but simply lacked the terminology to properly distinguish between person and nature. So I don’t see Arianism as a counter example. I don’t think you’ll get much more help on iconoclasm either.

    I understand what you’re doing with the passage from the Psalms, but my point was that your argument only works, if that, on a hermenutic you reject.

    I am not sure what “too much like Samuel” is supposed to prove. If you have an inference you wish to draw from strong similarities, then make one. But I don’t see how it follows that there are strong similarities that the latter is a fabrication. Is that true in the gospel material about Christ and various OT figures? If the argument is good for Mary/Samuel, why not for Christ and OT figures too? If it is truth preserving in one case then it should be in anoher case, all things being equal between them.

    My suggestion that perhaps the children by another marriage of Joseph were unbelievers is perfectly consistent with Fr. Maximus’ point.

    MAD is a geopolitical policy. If you think that both positions are inconsistent, well that isn’t telling us something new. It comes as no great shock to the Orthodox that Rome got something else wrong since they dismiss the tradition that she died for example. Does the fact that Protestant Arminians and Calvinism disagree prove that they are both wrong? No.
    As I pointed out above, I don’t think that every belief is capable of equal demonstration and I think it is unreasonable to think that they would require it. After all, what’s the great knock down argument for the canonicity of Ruth on par with the Resurrection?

    And you seemed to ignore my question so I will repost it.

    As for unhistorical assertions, do you mean assertions for which we lack verification or which is contrary to information we have? In either case, how shall the Exodus fair? Is Exodus unhistorical too? If not, why not?

  26. Perry,

    The Exodus account is given in Scripture which I already accept as true. From my point of view, I am trying to determine if something outside of Scripture is true. I would be the first to admit that I don’t apply the same standards to things which are Biblically attested and things which are not Biblically attested.

    The MAD doctrine has significance for me since I’m sitting on the outside trying to figure out which side is right. The Orthodox make one claim and the Catholics another. Both sides claim that their view is the true ancient one. Neither have any significant Biblical support. What method should I use to sort between the two? The claim that something is ancient is not the same as it actually being ancient.

    As to the view I hold, I go with the assertion of Basil that it’s not a doctrine which should be one which prevents people from being a part of the Orthodox Church. But it is such a doctrine, today. I think that the virginal conception is Christologically required, but the PV isn’t (from what I can see at least). I’m open to your claim that it is, and am interested in why you think so.

    I’m just saying I’ve heard and read all of the arguments in favor and against the PV of Mary and they just aren’t compelling. Without the authority claim they’d be pretty weak. Even with the authority claim they still seem week to me.

  27. Perry,

    As to the parallels between the story of Samuel and that of Mary… I’d use the same tests that I would use with something like the Book of Mormon which clearly draws from Biblical stories and claims that one prefigures their stories. This demonstrates to me that it is likely that a pious fraud would use parallel texts from the OT.

    I think the best way to approach this subject would be to take a close look at the Protoevangelium of James, but that’s precisely what I’ve yet to see in any Orthodox apologetic on the subject. The Orthodox, it seems to me, pick and choose from the Protoevangelium as if they were Protestants picking through the church fathers.

    I don’t buy into the Psalms “gate” argument, but if someone does, then they have to account for the passages which speak of the gate being open for the righteous person. My end goal would be to get the person using the argument to admit that any sort of thing can be proven when allegorizing in that fashion. Again, it feels ad hoc.

  28. Mr. Tundra Man,

    I didn’t want to say this sooner, because I didn’t want to complicate the issue further; BUT since You seem to repeat this argument [about East and West having the same faith, while at the same time having different rational foundations for it], I think the best similar example is that of the Filioque: when faced with Arianism, East and West took two completely different and mutually exclusive options: but the common ground was that the Logos was God, and so was the Holy Spirit. — The same in this case, of the ever-virginity of the Holy Mother of God.

  29. MTM,

    I had, and sometimes still have, similar difficulties with Orthodox Mariology. What convinced me that my rationality might be inhibiting me was reading about Saints who believe with the least skepticism. Saints like Seraphim of Sarov demonstrate to me that they have the sweetest, most humble, pure and joyful faith, and that their extreme devotion to Mary must have something to do with it.

    Also subjectively speaking, when one talks about her having conjugal relations, after a while of being resolved to the reigning Church opinion of her PV, it just starts to seem inappropriate. Yes we are subject to indoctrination, but I hope it’s not just reduced to that. One thing I like about Orthodoxy is that it presents a believable ideal. We believe that Mary lived an ideal life of chastity and uninterrupted, pure devotion to God. One may think that this cheapens marriage, and I did for a while, but there wont be marriage relations in heaven, and she is our ideal (which is too abstract a word) of heaven on earth.

    Perhaps the Church has just deemed it best for us to believe this way for our own good and in striving for purity in our own lives, married or not.

  30. Andrea,

    When I read the Protoevangelium I find a story that is internally inconsistent. Mary’s father is not allowed to give a donation in the temple because he has no offspring. Yet Mary is later praised as being a part of people devoted to the Lord specifically for not having offspring. I just don’t buy it.

  31. Doug,
    If your methodology convicts the POJ as a fraud, why doesn’t it do so for NT accounts? Second, I don’t necessarily need to defend its authenticity to defend the notions contained in it. There are plenty of notions in fraudulent works that are true.

    As for allegory, that depends on if there are rules of allegory or not. If there are, then you can’t prove just anything by it. And if allegory is out, then so Galatians 4:21ff.

    I don’t know why you privilege the account in Scripture. If the inference is truth preserving it is so regardless of the case. Your appeal here amounts to special pleading. After all, the canon of Scripture is outside of Scripture too.

    MAD is a geopolitical position, and not an argument. Again, if you wish to make an argument that two incompatible claims falsify both positions, you’ll need to make that argument. So far I haven’t seen it.
    The Orthodox and Catholics make rival claims on a whole host of issues. That is hardly news. It only implies that at least one of them is wrong. Neither have biblical support for the canon too. And part of it depends on how one reads the Bible too. How do you read Ps 45 for example?

    I respect Basil’s view, but do you think that the judgment of one father overturns that of the whole? If so, do you recommend we do this with the canon of scripture too? How about the divinity of Christ?
    What significance do you think there is to Jesus being perpetually a virgin?

    Suppose I agree that the arguments are weak. Should we expect every argument in such a context for every view to be strong? I think that is unrealistic. Take for example the authorship of Revelation. Do you find the arguments for Johannine authorship to be strong or weak?

    And of course, no one is forcing you to be Orthodox. Why not just be Protestant?

  32. Mr. Tundra Man,

    the Jews resented barreness, but treasured the vows of the Nazarites. (So, unless You’re willing to regard the entire Old Covenant as internally inconsistent, I’ll advise You to rethink Your opinion)

  33. Mr Valentine,

    Pray tell, is there going to be somewhere folks can go to get the many helpful articles you had up at geocities?

    Mr Tundra,

    Regarding picking through ancient texts “protestant style” and then interpreting or allegorising them ad hoc, the issue very much comes down to the Church recognising her own, that is to say tradition and normative judgement. An example of this is the Church proclaiming a certain canon of scriptures. What was the rule used to deem some inspired and true and others not and can we not use this same rule in areas like the veracity of Mary’s ever-virginity? You said above that you use different standards when approaching biblical vs non-biblical texts and perhaps very well in many cases but what standards do you use to attest to the biblical texts being the biblical texts in the first place? I’m sure you see where I am heading with my 21 questions.


  34. On my MAD analogy, when it comes to the identity of the brothers and sisters of Jesus, my point is that there is no consensus in the Fathers which includes both Eastern and Western Fathers. So I’m not down to something which the church universally agrees to, but rather something which the East has one view of and the West has another view.

    As to Basil’s view of the optionalness of the PV dogma, it’s hard to know if others have held the same view since it’s a very specific question rarely addressed in that specific a manner.

    I think, Perry, you are right in the end. I think this issue will keep me a Protestant. If the choice is to abandon rational thought as others have suggested, I just don’t think I can go that way. I have great respect for the ancientness of the Orthodox Church, but with that ancientness comes a certain inflexibility and I think that’s the key problem for me.

  35. So I’m not down to something which the church universally agrees to, but rather something which the East has one view of and the West has another view

    As I said before, the exact same thing can be said about the way in which East and West responded to Arianism: yet I somehow don’t see You becoming an Arian anytime soon, or complaining about lack of universality or consensus in opposing that particular heresy. — Now, why is that?

  36. Bratislav – I think I understand the question about the selection of the canon. It’s a familiar question, but not compelling to me.

    I’m not sure my answer will satisfy. We don’t agree on the canon of Scripture.

    The Jews were split on the OT canon some only taking the first five books and others taking the entire OT. I accept their selection of the entire OT without becoming a Jew myself. I don’t go and get circumcised because I accept that Genesis is part of the canon.

    Same with the NT canon. A particular set of early Christians selected the canon from among a number of competing books. I accept the NT canon while not accepting their Deuterocanonical choices (Macabees, Tobit, Bel and the Dragon, etc). That doesn’t mean that I have to accept everything they believed any more than I have to become a Jew today because I accept the OT canon.

  37. If you choose a particular set of books apart from the whole, your choice, is it no arbitrary? What would be different in your case if you chose (as I hear Luther wanted to do) to eliminate the epistle of James and Hebrews?

    Maybe I’m going knowhere with this, or I’m missing something, but I can’t seem to understand how your choice in canon isn’t essentially random. And if that is the case, sola Scriptura is equally busted because if the canon is the sole authority, and you get to choose the canon, then you are the sole authority. A little off topic but you did mention canon.

    Also, I wouldn’t’ say that the OT is the Jews. Paul talks alot about the real, faithful Israel and also circumsicion of the heart. The Church being the New Israel, the OT is properly ours because we are Israel, or so I understand it from an Orthodox perspecitve (and if I’m wrong, please correct me).

    If I’ve made very little sense here, correct me, anyone. I don’t often chime in with the heavy hitters. For the most part, I just observe. Sorry for wasting your time if what I’ve said here amounts to nothing.


  38. MTM,

    The subject of where rationality fits with revelation is complicated. I didn’t mean to imply that we have to abandon it, else I wouldn’t follow this blog. We do have to become convinced. For me the Orthodox Church made the most sense on a multitude of issues, and the Mary stuff was my only stumbling block. I concluded that if they were right about the other things, they had enough trustable authority for me to let them win on that front. Plus I wanted to be convinced. That probably made the difference.

  39. I started attending an Antiochian Orthodox Church three years ago. I said that I would not allow myself to get Chrismated for at least a year. I had read extensively before attending and also had taken a couple of courses on Orthodoxy at [an Evangelical] seminary. There are a lot of things which I like about the Orthodox Church. More things that I like than those that I dislike, in fact. But, I’ve always been someone who has to buy into the whole program. I can’t just overlook parts that I find wrong. This is discouraging to me since I wanted to see Orthodoxy work out for me. I don’t intend to criticize those who are satisfied by what they have found in Orthodoxy. I just wish I had found the same thing. I am feeling personally discouraged right now. Not feeling at home in Evangelicalism nor Orthodoxy.

  40. Mr. Tundra,

    I just wanted to mention a couple of points for your consideration. The liturgical texts of the Church (which as Archbishop Hilarion of Volokolamsk has suggested are in some sense “superior” to the writings of any individual Father in that, like the Holy Scriptures, they have been “received” and affirmed by the Church as a whole) universally affirm that the Theotokos is Ever-Virgin. In this case we are not even talking about about isolated or obscure texts, but common and frequently sung hymns to the Theotokos and the litanies, great and small, in practically every service. This is (in some sense) quite apart from the question of whether individual Fathers taught that the “brothers of the Lord” were stepbrothers or cousins.

    The question of the precise identity of some the twelve apostles comes to mind. We know, according to both Scripture and the rest of Holy Tradition (including the liturgical tradition of the Church), that the chief Apostles were twelve in number. But the Gospels differ as to the names of some of them. Were there, for instance, two or three “Jameses” (in the latter case, on being of the twelve, not of the seventy)? You will find different assessments in the Fathers and other ecclesiastical writers, East and West. Are Nathanael and Bartholomew one and the same? If I am not mistaken, most of the Greek Fathers who address the subject thought so, but St. Augustine and others disagreed. All of this does not call into question the existence of the “Twelve” or the “Seventy” (at least not for a Christian), nor their authority and importance to the early Church. I realize this is not perfectly analogous to the situation you are wrestling with, but it does illustrate that the lack of a precise and uniform tradition concerning secondary and tertiary aspects of a truth universally affirmed by the Church does not call into question the truth itself.

  41. Sorry, my parenthetical comment after the word “Jameses” should read: (in the latter case, one being of the Seventy, not of the Twelve)

  42. Does anyone know if there is any historical evidence in Israel for lotteries where the prize of a 13 year old virgin goes to the winner but he has to promise to take her in as his wife, but never to have sexual relations with her?

  43. Mr. Tundra Man,

    You still haven’t told me why You’re not an Arian, given the fact that the rationale for why we believe the Son and the Spirit to be of one and the same essence with the Father is diametrically opposed to the reason why the Catholics believe the same.

  44. When faced with Arianism, they develped two mutually-exclusive theologies to try to counter it:

    In the East, a distinction was made between personal and natural attributes, those from the first set belonging to one person alone, and those from the other belonging to all three persons. The Arians were accused of confounding personal attributes (like, say, the unbegottenness of the Father alone) with natural attributes (like, say, the uncreatedness of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit alike).

    In the West, on the other hand, when the Arians began saying that the Father alone is God, the Catholics simply took one of His (personal) atttributes, namely that of spirating the Holy Ghost, and started predicating it of the Son also, thus wanting or attempting to defend the Son’s divinity.

    Until this day, the issue of the Filioque is still not resolved: — so, being true to Your own approach, why not dump the doctrine of the Holy Trinity also, since it’s obviously based on such conflicting and colliding understandings of ONE and the SAME thing?

    And, besides, the Arians did have one thing right, though: there was a time when he [Protestantism] was not. 🙂

  45. Lucian, Thanks for the explanation. Sorry, I’m not philosophically sophisticated enough to appreciate the subtleties of the arguments. I understand the Trinity from a Biblical basis, not from a philosophical one so I’m afraid I could not defend either position.

  46. I didn’t ask You to take sides, or to defend either position; all I wanted to do was to point out to You the consensus that exists between the two sides, all the differences notwithstanding. So if this doesn’t shatter Your confidence in the Trinity, don’t use the same reason [the differences between East and West as pertaining to why we believe what we believe] as an excuse to deny Mary’s ever-virginity either. OK? It would only be self-refuting.

  47. Lucian, Not sure what you are saying. I believe in the Trinity for different reasons than what you have stated. Hence, I don’t see how I’m using either side as an argument for the Trinity.

  48. East and West believe in the same things, while at the same time holding different or even opposing rationales for why they do that: this is generally so, and it’s not just something that happens only in the case of Mary’s ever-virginity. (You were making a case in Your former comments on this post, arguing that You can’t believe the doctrine of her ever-virginity because East and West differ on the exact identity of the Lord’s brothers). Am I making myself clearer now?

  49. Lucian, I see better what you are saying. I don’t see that the point is relevant, though. There’s a categorical difference between making a historical and a philosophical claim. Historical claims require evaluation of historical evidences. Unfortunately, this question gets shifted from an historical question into an authority question. But in the end I have to ask if the church has the authority to alter history to suit it’s needs?

    The East says that the brothers are sons of Jacob by a former marriage, hence an historical claim. The West claims special (extra-Biblical) knowledge as well. They claim that the brothers are cousins. Both of these are claims that they have access to some tradition, a historical claim.

    Fortunately in both cases, we get the thinking behind the claims. Origen and Gregory both make it clear the source of their information is not apostolic tradition, but some other sources.

    True, they make this claim about other things as early as the 90’s like the date of Easter. Both sides claimed a verbal tradition which they claimed came from the apostles.

    This, it seems to me, is categorically different than what seems to be a philosophical question, namely the procession of the Holy Spirit, but I guess I could say that I tend to believe the Eastern story on that one since it seems coherent with the whole, at least to me.

    The story of Mary being taken in by Joseph who was to keep her as a virgin, his wife, but not his wife, seems incoherent with the rest of the story, to me.

  50. The Matt 1:25 case is stronger than Turretin indicates when the context from 1:18 is considered. The key phrase “before they came together” would not make any sense if Mary was under a pledge to remain a virgin even after her marriage to Joseph.

    Matt 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.

  51. For You, history seems to be more “truthful” or more “real“ than the way in which God exists. For us, there’s obviously no such difference.

    I also doubt that Origen and St. Gregory said that they relied on un-apostolic tradition: they obviously relied on apostolic tradition, just not written-down sources.

    So Your problem seems to be with verifiability: we can “check” historical documents, and we can “search through” the historical record, and we can “dig up” ancient documents and “carbon-date” them… but we cannot “verify” whether the Spirit proceeds or not from the Son also, or whether an oral unwritten tradition “actually existed” in a certain time-period or not… so the answer to Your situation is trust or faith or belief of the religious kind.

    That was my cheap amateur-psycology tip for today. (Hey, You get what You pay for; just ‘cuz it’s cheap doesn’t mean it’s no good).

  52. Julian wrote “I also doubt that Origen and St. Gregory said that they relied on un-apostolic tradition: they obviously relied on apostolic tradition, just not written-down sources.”

    Sorry, I quoted the wrong guy. Should have been Jerome, not Gregory, but either way they both made it plain that it’s wasn’t from apostolic tradition, but other reasons. Check out the quotes. This is one of those rare places where they state exactly what their source of information was. It’s a latter day claim to say otherwise.

  53. If You’re positive, then I believe You; I just thought that perhaps You instinctively understood non-written as non-apostolic.

  54. Mr. Tundra Man,

    Did you know that the New Testament often quotes, refers, or alludes to Jewish tradition about the OT prophets?

    There are things said in the NT that you won’t find anywhere in the OT…..but you will find it in Jewish tradition, so in a similar fashion, if its a christian tradition that our blessed Mother was a for-ever virgin, then what’s wrong with that?

    If you are going to get upset with us for holding on to an early christian tradition, then you should also get upset with Jesus and the Apostles for holding on to aspects of jewish tradition.

    My friend Dave, is doing a good job at plowing through the jewish tradition found in the NT.

    As seen here:

    You can’t have it both ways Mr. Thunder man. Also, I would like to mention, that the way you are interpreting the text is no different than how the judaizers(as well as a segment of modern messianic jews) interpreted the OT in regards to the gentiles observing the Mosaic Law. It is also similar to how Arius interpreted the word “created” in the OT, as well as no different than how the Reformed Baptist pastor John Mcarthur once fell into error when he couldn’t get past a few words in Hebrews chapter 1. For a time he fell into the error that the Son didn’t exist before the incarnation.

    So you gotta be careful when it comes to being too literal. The Church as guided by the Holy Spirit is a healthy guide to follow…..and not just only for the 1st century in regards to the dispute with the Judaizers, but all the way to the second advent Mr. Thunder man.

    All the way to the 2nd Advent!

    I hope I didn’t hurt your feelings by saying all this, and I wish you a happy thanksgiving with your loved ones.

    Take care!


  55. By the way, I don’t trust Saint Jerome!

    He lied about the LXX, he lied about Origen not liking the LXX, he lied about the Apostles quoted from the Hebrew more than the LXX, and he lied on a number of otherthings.

    So if he’s your only source then you can forget it. I won’t listen to Saint Jerome. I will doublecheck and triplecheck anything he had to say.


  56. Jnorm888 wrote “Did you know that the New Testament often quotes, refers, or alludes to Jewish tradition about the OT prophets?”

    How do the Orthodox deal with the warning against “Jewish fables”? What’s the test to tell if we should accept Jewish tradition?

    It’s a stretch to go from some OT tradition being baptized by NT usage to claiming that a post-NT tradition is Spirit led. Which one is led – the Protoevangelium tradition or Jerome’s tradition? Both sides claim the Spirit is leading their church (along with the LDS and dozens of other sects).

  57. I think that “Jewish fables” refer to the “fables” of the Judaizers, that no man can be a Christian unless he becomes a Jew first, and other such nonsense.

    That’s also what troubles me about Jerome’s teaching with regards to the Lord’s brothers: it’s A.O.K. as an exegesis,… but I don’t remember anyone actually holding it before him…

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